During the removal of the shipwrecks from Hurricane Irma in 2017 that remain in the Simpson Bay Lagoon, the Nature Foundation assisted the National Recovery Program Bureau (NRPB) and its contractors. The Foundation staff has conducted environmental monitoring, assistance and advice, to ensure that the disposal of these wrecks has the least potential impact on the natural environment and potential endangered species. Coral reefs, seagrass ecosystems and mangroves are vital to the health of both marine and terrestrial life on St. Maarten. While it was essential that the wrecks of Hurricane Irma were removed quickly, it was also important that the proper measures were taken to ensure no additional environmental damage occurred. Safe removal of the wrecks will benefit the environment in the long-term and outweighed the potential risks for the current species attached to wrecks.
The Nature Foundation’s surveys also discovered several sensitive corals growing on the wrecks and included recommendations on whether the recorded species could be transplanted. The corals found on the wreck, in particular the Golf ball, Kobby brain, Orange cup, and Hidden cup corals were candidates to be transplanted to a new location. These corals play a significant role in the health of St. Maarten’s marine ecosystem and the building of reefs, preservation of these corals should always be attempted.
“Due to the length of time the wrecks have been submerged in the lagoon and their position, various surveys were done to report and analyse whether any native seagrass beds, corals, surrounding mangroves, or other species of interest may be at risk during salvaging work. Advice was given to the contractors and transplanting of corals and marine life was conducted by the Foundation. In total 78 corals were transplanted from wrecks towards a restoration site in Simpson Bay, the out planted corals were monitored for a half year. Some species showed successful survival rates, such as the orange cup coral. Other species were not successful in surviving at their new location, such as golfball corals and brain corals. In addition, 15 marine life species were successfully removed from a wreck and relocated to a safe location in Mullet Pond,” stated Melanie Meijer zu Schlochtern Manager of The Nature Foundation St. Maarten.
Coral transplanting has been utilized as a restoration approach for several decades around the world, transferring coral pieces to regions where they are more likely to thrive. The particles are then immediately carried through ocean water to their final destination. Corals will be adhered to the prepared seafloor using an underwater epoxy. Corals grow over the epoxy and organically connect at their base over time.
“Before successfully transplanting a coral fragment, our dive crew delicately removes it from the wreck. Corals are highly delicate creatures, and our staff takes great care throughout the transplantation process to achieve increased survival rates,” stated Melanie Meijer zu Schlochtern.
The findings of coral transplanting demonstrate that the survival rates of the Golf Ball, Starlet, and Brain coral were quite low, these out-planned corals either perished or vanished. The kind of epoxy used to transplant the coral is critical to coral survival; certain species have difficulty connecting to the epoxy or substrate. The Apoxie Sculpt was found to have better attachment and was hence largely utilized after the initial out planting. The structure of the coral, on the other hand, impacts the success of attachment to the epoxy and substrate. Rough or unevenly formed corals may increase attachment to substrate and epoxy, as was most likely the situation with the Orange cup corals. The Orange cup corals attached considerably better, and only a few corals were destroyed.
The National Recovery Program Bureau has reported that in total 139 wrecks were removed from Mullet Pond and the Simpson Bay Lagoon, approximately 3,200 metric tons of scrap metal, and 400 metric tons of non-ferrous scrap metal have been safely discarded. This is an amazing accomplishment for St. Maarten which will protect our precious ecosystems moving forward.
The Nature Foundation would like to thank the NRPB for the successful completion of the Shipwreck Removal project and for taking excellent care to limit impacts on the environment, corals, seagrass and mangroves!